Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Science Utopia

So many people agreed with me about the time & money thing, here is my vision of utopia:

Once upon a time, there was a place called Bell Labs. They gave their employees food and caffeine whenever they needed it, a place to sleep if they wanted to work late and crash, and plenty of toys to stimulate the imagination when they got stuck. They had great benefits and understood that their scientists would get more done and be more creative if they didn't have to worry about grocery shopping, commuting home, or looking busy just to look busy, nevermind paying the dentist or ferrying their kids back and forth from childcare (I don't actually know if Bell labs had any childcare, since I'm not sure they had many women working there, but we'll overlook that as a historical oversight).

I really do think that every lab should have a couch, if not several, a kitchen and a living room for breaks. There should be a television so we can watch the news- I have horror stories about people who went to work on 9/11 not knowing what happened because they never turn on a radio or tv, nevermind reading a newspaper.

The people who have vision and want to ask questions will give ideas to the people who are happiest just running the gels and getting the answers. All journals will be free and of equal quality, since peer review will be on the internet and open to everyone. Order of authorship won't matter. And tenure won't be decided by how many papers you publish or in what journals.

I actually kind of like the self-selecting model of science: the people who want to do it will do it because they want to, not because it has better benefits than any other job. So in my version of utopia, all jobs will have to have these perks, so people can pick their career for the right reasons and not feel like they're sacrificing anything. Instead they can choose based on their personal intellectual satisfaction with science vs. law vs. whatever other profession.



At 6:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No comments about this post in particular (other than I wholeheartedly agree and wouldn't it be nice if the utopian dream became a reality!) - I found your blog a couple of months back through someone else's blogroll and have enjoyed reading it regularly. Noticed that your blog was also listed in the latest issue of 'The Scientist' in an article about science blogs.
Here is the link in case you hadn't seen it already: (I think free reg'd required).

-- Just-crossed-30's PhD in Biophysics halfway into the first year of postdoc

At 10:08 AM, Blogger utenzi said...

That does sound very utopian, YFS. For the most part I agree with you though I'd think science advancement would slow if the competition element were taken away.

At 5:41 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Thanks to the Biophysics postdoc, I didn't know about that! Very flattering to think I made it onto a list somewhere!

utenzi, I disagree that science advancement would slow if competition were not the main motivator. Okay, maybe I don't disagree. I just don't think that's the only thing that keeps us working hard. And I definitely don't think it should be the only motivator. I think we'd have to do the experiment to really find out.

In my field, you get at least two kinds: people who do it just because they think it's wildly interesting and they just wanna know , and people who do it to cure cancer, or whatever disease, because their relative/childhood friend had/died of [insert disease here].

The people who are motivated mostly by competition probably should go to law or business school. There's very little feedback or recognition in science, even for the most successful. It's probably why most scientists are so screwed up, ego-wise.

That's why, in my utopia, there would be other kinds of rewards and recognition, so you wouldn't have to beat someone in a race to be considered successful. Productivity should be success enough, provided you have a support system that encourages you to keep working, and you get to see some fruits of your work pay off in a tangible way, in a reasonable time frame (miracle drugs, of course!).

At 7:51 AM, Blogger utenzi said...

That might work out well since the competition aspect mainly comes from grant writing folk that no longer do bench work. I enjoy the wet lab stuff, even tissue culture, but that's not where the money is. But who needs that stuff anyway?

At 6:02 PM, Blogger John said...

Utopia will emerge when more and more people start helping out their fellow crew members on this amazing spaceship called Earth. If one crew member suffers through ignorance or neglect then everyone suffers to some degree. Utopia starts with U!

Heart Johnzland



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